6 December 2007

Quality Counts

I had a major revelation recently. For the most part, my stash consists of excellent quality fabrics. However, I am occasionally enticed by a "great deal". You know the kind - the fabric that looks great on the bolt (if you're in store) or on the monitor (if you're online) and the price is amazing. Sure you have a tiny nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach that maybe this fabric might not be the best, but it's only $0.99/yard. How can anyone resist that?

Now, don't get me wrong, maybe it is possible to find good quality fabric for $0.99/yard, but it's rare - very rare. Every once in a blue moon, a designer might commission a textile mill to create a large order of fabric and not all the fabric gets used up. The excess fabric may then be sold off for an exceptional price to a wholesale outlet that unloads this fabulous fabric at an insanely low price (hello, Fabric Mart). So, yes, it is technically possible to find some great deals on amazing fabrics. However, even those fabrics don't tend to sell for $0.99/yard. In my experience, if the fabric costs $0.99/yard, it will be an investment in disappointment. Cheap fabric usually displays one or more of the following dismaying characteristics:

  • it ravels at the slightest movement - just the process of moving the pattern pieces from the cutting table to the sewing machine can results in the disintegration of the cut edges
  • it hates the iron - ranging from the inability to hold a decent crease to melting at the mere approach of an iron
  • on the bolt it looks fine, but after one washing it shrinks horribly (and continues to shrink indefinitely on each subsequent washing) or falls to bits - if it makes it to the dryer, it fills up the lint catcher with oodles of fuzz
  • it sews up nicely enough, but the seams shred after one washing or even worse, on the first wearing
  • it smells weird - sometimes before washing, sometimes after, sometimes both
  • it feels weird - it's picky or sticky or just plain icky
I often hear seamstresses say the following, "Well at that price, I can use it for a muslin." I have even murmured this to myself in the past as well. If the cheapo fabric is used simply for a 'quick and dirty, throw it away after you've tweaked the fit' muslin - so be it, then it has served it's purpose. However, attempting to do anything beyond the 'test and toss' stage is foolhardy, in my opinion. Whenever I have attempted to turn a cheap fabric muslin into a cheap fabric wearable muslin, that's when it ends in disaster. The final product is never actually all that wearable (for all the bulleted reasons listed above) and I have wasted valuable sewing time. No amount of skill, patience and technique can make a cheesy fabric into a topnotch garment - so why waste your time?

I love creating a garment and the creation of that garment begins with fabric. Fabric should inspire and delight you, not frustrate and repulse you. It should be a sensuous experience for the senses - the texture, the body, the smell, the weight - it should entice you to work with it. Fabric should whisper your name and envelop you in the fantasy of its possibilities. Cheap fabric, no matter how good the price, cannot do this. It's like putting some Playdoh in the hands of a chimp and expecting Michelangelo's David. To put it politely, it ain't gonna happen.

Most of my textile sources typically offer only the best fabrics. I rarely wonder if I will be disappointed in my latest acquisition. It's only when I venture into the bargain basement zone, that I have issues. So, with the new year approaching, I have decided to take a vow of quality. I will respect my talent and I nurture it in the best way possible - by providing it with only the best raw materials. I will listen to my inner voice when it tells me to back away from the bolt. I will seek out beautiful fabric and eschew the 'too good to be true' deals. In a nutshell:

I will only buy high quality fabrics.

'nuff said


angie.a said...

Good play! I can't resist a "deal" either. I'm purging a bunch of I can make a muslin fabric this winter too while i'm on holiday break.

I've been trying to use better fabrics even for my 10 y/o daughter. I bought some lime dupioni for ruffles on a smocked top last week and the sales clerk said "oh I'll be glad when my children are grown & I can use silk". When I told her it was for my 10 y/o dd she about died! Hey, it looks beautiful and feels beautiful. Lu loves it.

Carolyn (Diary of a Sewing Fanatic) said...

Yeah but every once in awhile you give in and purchase that really cheap piece hoping against hope that this piece will be the one to break the rules...

been there...done that! *LOL*

Vicki said...

Oh how true! And your skills deserve the best!

Anonymous said...

So true. I have never understood the 'wearable muslin' thing myself. I will add another caveat. The cheapie stuff is usually so off grain that no amount of stretching will get it back on grain. There is nothing so wonderful as working with good fabrics.

Katrin said...

What a right statement. Seeing all the time and passion we devote to sewing we are really worth buying fabric that´s worth it. I sometimescould not resist buying cheap one...they are now sleeping in my stash, waiting to become (unwearable) muslins.


LauraLo said...

Oh I like so much your list of cheap fabrics features, it made me laugh so much. I'm a woman so I definitely love a bargain and has so much of that cheap fabric. I threw it all away (only saved a piece which is good quality but awful colour for muslins) last year and since then, if I want a bargain, I go to the bargain bins in my favorite shop, where I can find cuts of really good fabric, not cheap but less expensive anyway than the bolted fabric!

Michee Rose said...

Maybe I'm just not an experienced enough sewer (12yrs self-taught...but not necessarily focused on making myself an impeccable sewer)...but I think I've found a couple of "bargains" that have turned out quite well.
I bought an embroidered linen (blend, I assume) for $1/yd on clearance. I made it up into a lovely dress that I've worn to two weddings and would actually consider wearing again (a rare find in my fancy-dress category; I tend to like to just make new). For a dress that cost <$5 (including accents, trim & zipper), it's absolutely wonderful!

Cherie said...

Good topic! I think the key in your post is the statement "respect my talent"...and I would add, "respect my time". I don't like to sew on a deadline, as I may be tempted to skip the details, but then I remember to treasure the journey to the completed item, protect my time jealously, on the way to a good outcome, mostly only possible with quality fabric. My hands have learned to read fabric, and it feels like fingernails on a chalkboard when handling those inferior quality fabrics.

Theresa said...

I fully support the idea to focus on quality fabric-its a cliche to be sure-however not without merit-'you usually get what you pay for'-most of the time cheap equals cheap. The best thing about focusing on quality means that from time to time you really will stumble upon a bargin-beautiful fabric at an unexpected price.